Little Big Town – Mr. Sun (Album Review)

The past few years have left many of us desperate to imbibe something strong. Now, with autumn just days away, Little Big Town is ready to serve up the potent cocktail of Mr. Sun, which arrives on Friday, September 16, 2022, thanks to Capitol Nashville.

When we last heard from the Grand Ole Opry’s sweethearts, they had abandoned their pontoon boats and girl crushes to map the stars. People’s Choice, ACM, CMA, and Grammy Award winners multiple times over, the Country quartet—Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Phillip Sweet, and Jimi Westbrook—is best known outside of their beloved genre for their crossover success with 2015’s smash hit single, “Girl Crush.” Coming together in the late ‘90s, the group released their self-titled debut in 2002 and have since gone on to deliver eight additional albums, including 2007’s A Place to Land, 2012’s Tornado, 2016’s Wanderlust, and 2020’s Nightfall. All of this earned them a place at the forefront of today’s Country, along with two American Music Awards and even an Emmy, likely thanks to their exceptional harmonies, heartfelt lyrics, and cross-genre appeal.

So, what’s next? Well, for their self-produced tenth studio album, Mr. Sun, the foursome enjoys a full-scale return to day-drinking, giving Ke$ha a run for her Jim Beam. All joking aside, the 16 songs that fill the album are largely typical for the group—piano-led ballads, relationships fumbling toward (or away from) ecstasy, and plenty of old-fashioned bar crawls—presented with the to-die-for harmonies that are the crowning glory of Little Big Town.

It’s a mix that works well, one that includes ballads and boppers alike in a carefully-constructed blend of the quartet’s multiple personalities. As is often the case, Fairchild takes the lead on many of these tracks, bringing her vocal pizzazz to the golden Seventies sway of “All Summer.” Opening the album with a cool sip of wine by the water and setting the tone for the tracks that are to follow, it is a solid first track but the record definitely gets better.

In fact, Fairchild anchors many of the album’s best offerings with her alluring vocals. The smoky bar scene set in piano-led “One More Song” and the Disco-fueled hip-shaker “Song Back” are two perfect examples of successful tracks that display the multiple facets of Little Big Town’s talents. And, despite Miss Schlapman only helming a singular track, “Heaven Had a Dance Floor,” her angelic vocals rollerskate beneath the Disco ball to deliver listeners plenty of warm smiles.

Somewhat surprisingly, Sweet and Westbrook man much of Mr. Sun with their own vocal talents. From the languid longing of “Hell Yeah” to the gratitude of “Rich Man,” they bring an effortless calm and cool comfort to the quartet’s new material. But it’s no surprise that Little Big Town reaches its pinnacle when all four individuals come together to build off one another’s strengths. Tracks like the ironically gray ballad “Mr. Sun” and intimate “Last Day On Earth” glisten with harmonies that few artists today can ever hope to achieve.

But sixteen tracks is a lot of territory to cover, perhaps too much, and Mr. Sun does have its seat-fillers. Many of these devolve into the numbness that can be found at the bottom of a shot glass (“Three Whiskeys and the Truth”) or the smooth spell that comes with too many libations  (“Whiskey Colored Eyes”). The whiskey and Cuervo references are endless. Even “Something Strong,” an acoustic guitar anchored ballad, is peppered with alcohol analogies that detract from its overall efficacy and intimacy. Realizing that drinking at all hours is part of Little Big Town’s schtick, there is a carefully-constructed line that is crossed in Mr. Sun and it all becomes somewhat disconcerting rather than light-hearted amusement.

It’s a distraction that can make Mr. Sun feel like an advertisement for drowning your sorrows in anything, or everything, available at the local liquor store. And this is part of the irony of the collection, which tends toward melancholia and loss. Yet, golden like its titular reference, it sonically embraces the infectious rays of yesteryear with its bell-bottomed Seventies influences and Easy Listening vibes. There is, of course, the necessary twang (“Better Love,” “God Fearing Gypsies”) and even some Eighties’ sass (“Gold”), all before the group culminates in some of the album’s finest moments, including the ballads “Different Without You” and “Friends of Mine,” a toast to goodness.

So, is Mr. Sun a perfect pour? The decision is ultimately in each listener’s hands, but for Cryptic Rock,  Little Big Town’s latest rates 3.5 out of 5 stars.


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